Sales of electric bikes have reached around 90,000 per year in the U.S. according to a recent story in Bicycling In Europe and China it’s 1.3 million and 30 million, respectively. So what’s it going to take for Americans to hop aboard the worldwide e-bike craze? A ten-dollar-per-gallon gas or maybe an over-the-top gas tax?
If e-bikes have any chance of rivaling American car culture, e-bike makers are going to need to equip their rigs with more drool-worthy high-tech features. Mountain bike pioneer and unexpected e-bike supporter Gary Fisher summed it up perfectly when he told Bicycling that for e-bikes to win over American customers, they will have to be fast, fun to ride, and feature cutting-edge electronics. “It will look like a cross between an iPhone and a Speed Concept,” he added.
One start-up that might be on the right track is VeloMotorWorks which offers some pretty cool technologies including collision avoidance, smartphone integration for built-in mapping, and “drive-by-wire” control of brakes and transmission. In the future, the company is also hoping to integrate features like “data sensing, real-time intelligent tracking systems, dynamic routing, and social integration.”
In addition to technology, e-bike makers need to offer something more exciting than your standard Huffy or “beach cruiser with battery pack” look. Many e-bikes look practical, like the bike equivalent of a Camry or an Accord, not unique or lust-worthy like a Pagani or a Ferrari. Sure, beautiful, high-tech e-bikes will cost more, but as those in the auto business will tell you, buying a vehicle is rarely a rational purchase decision. The good news is that a few bike manufacturers are starting to figure that out, if the bikes at the recent InterBike show are any indicator.
So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, look around at all the individual people sitting next to you in vehicles made to carry four or five people. If you and your stagnant friends all had e-bikes, you’d all be doing your part environmentally and moving along nicely.